Extensivism’s View of the Origin of Sin and God’s Offer of Salvation

In a previous article I explored Calvinism’s view of the origin of sin and salvation through the lens of their belief in compatible freedom and the “mysteries” that such a view generates. To read it, just search “Calvinism’s View of the Origin of Sin and God’s Offer of Salvation” (posted on October 31, 2016).

This article looks at Extensivism’s view of the same issues. In this article I use Extensivism (broadly) as encompassing all soteriological perspectives that see God’s love and salvation plan as provisioning salvation by faith for everyone, and this in contrast with Calvinism’s exclusive plan, which only includes some people the unconditionally elect.[1]

Before contrasting these two perspectives, let me succinctly give the essence of Calvinism’s view of moral freedom based upon Compatibilism and Extensivism’s based upon Libertarian freedom.

Compatibilism says that man makes a free choice so long as he chooses according to his greatest desire. While the choice is free, the agent cannot choose differently in the moral moment of decision because the desire is the result of determinative antecedents. Given the same past, one cannot act otherwise; thus, it is a predetermined free choosing.

Libertarianism says that man is endowed with otherwise choice. Given the same past, he can choose to do A or B, and whatever he did choose in the moral moment of decision, he could have chosen differently even with the same past.

Extensivists believe Scripture teaches that God gave Adam and Eve the true ability to choose to sin or not to sin. God gave that freedom, which is good, and man misused it, which is sin. Man is a free moral agent with the ability to choose to sin or not to sin, which means that he is the efficient cause of sin, and thereby avoids the intrinsic revelatory problems of Calvinism and compatibilism with regard to the origin of sin and God desiring people to sin or be in hell.[2] Extensivists believe that being endowed with libertarian free choice is an essential component of what it means for man to be created in the image of God.

Therefore, God creating man in His own image includes giving man the ability to choose otherwise. To wit, whatever man did in fact choose in the moral moment of decision, he could have chosen otherwise; he could act or refrain. Furthermore, the meaning of concepts like love, mercy, compassion, worship, and righteousness are inextricably connected to otherwise choice, and consequently emanate from the freedom to act or refrain. We reject the notion that deciding is synonymous with desire as illustrated in the life of Paul. He said, “For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate. But if I do the very thing I do not want to do, I agree with the Law, confessing that the Law is good” (Romans 7:15-16).[3]

It is the essential foreknowledge of God, which includes exhaustive eternal knowledge of contingencies in time, that resolves the problem of how to establish the certainty that man would sin even though he had been created in holiness and did not have to sin. God’s foreknowledge can assure certainty without Calvinism’s causality and eternal necessity.[4]

For the question, “If God knew we would sin with otherwise choice, why not create man without free will?” The answer is that man created without true free will is not man created in God’s image. God’s love toward man is a free choice God could have chosen not to create man with whom to share His love in like manner, man is designed by God so that he may choose to love, worship, or follow God or not.

To say that man freely chose to love and worship God, but actually could not choose to do otherwise is contrary to the most obvious teaching of Scripture as well as human understanding and application of those terms in real life. Imagine a wedding with the groom standing at the altar by his bride. The pastor says, “In taking this woman you hold by your hand to be your lawful wedded wife before God and these witnesses, do you promise to love her, cherish her, forsaking all others and cleave only to her so long as you both shall live?” Then the man responds, “I do, but of course that is all I can say; I must exercise my predetermined free choice and say yes because that is my nature.” Besides everyone being aghast, I suspect the honeymoon would lack some honey.

The very thing that makes love so romantic, mercy so tender, compassion so endearing, marriage so enchanting, and commitment so noble is the reality that the person could have chosen to do otherwise. The groom could have loved another, but chose this woman; mercy could have been withheld, compassion denied, marriage rejected, and commitment forsaken. Defining free choice in a manner that excludes otherwise choice in the actual moment of decision is almost indistinguishable from animal instinct. The only differences are concepts like the experience of deliberation, which in reality does not affect the choice set by determinative antecedents any more than if one compares it to determined instinct.

I would contend that the Scripture teaches and humans quotidianly think, talk and act in concert with libertarianism and not compatibilism, a truth that is even pervasive in Calvinists writings that are reticent to lucidly display the essence of compatibilism. Similar to the aforementioned question, some then ask, why did God not create man so he could not sin? The answer is because to create man in such a way so as to guarantee that he would not sin (so long as sin was within the range of options), or could not sin means that God would not have created man as man.

There are many reasons that the possibility to sin does not exist with God, but suffice it to say, the Scripture teaches this truth (James 1:13), and God’s nature makes such an actual impossibility. To wit, if God sinned, He would not be God, and if God can cease to exist, He was never God; dissimilarly, man can sin and still be man, albeit unrighteous man. God has no part in creating sin, creating a past that inviolably predetermines a desire to sin from which man will freely choose to sin, creating sin’s eternal necessity, or an environment conducive to sin, but rather always desires righteousness (Habakkuk 1:13; Hebrews 6:18; James 1:13 and 1 Peter 1:15-16).

God created man as a free moral agent, in His image, with true freedom to choose righteousness or sin. Therefore, God created freedom, and by every measure, freedom is good. It is the misuse of freedom that birthed sin. That does not make freedom evil or the One who gave it responsible for evil, or even desirous of such eventuality in light of other actual possible eventualities. Man is the efficient cause of sin, which means that from a libertarian perspective it is nonsense to ask who caused man to sin; however it is highly relevant in light of a compatible perspective. Norman Geisler says, “God made the fact of freedom; we are responsible for the acts of freedom.”[5]

Therefore, unlike Calvinism, under the terms of which God must have in some regard desired man to sin, Extensivists would argue that God desired to create man as a truly free moral agent, with otherwise choice as God has; desiring only that he would choose to live righteously. God never did nor does He now desire sin. He is holy and only and always desires holiness. God’s choice to permit sin temporarily was not God’s true desire for man any more than it is His desire for man to continue in sin, but God’s desire for righteousness is not thwarted or overcome by man’s sin.

In God’s desire to create a true holy man, He knew that free otherwise choice was required; to wit, holiness and sin are the result of a choice between two accessible options rather than a consequence of a predetermined free choosing in which man could not have chosen differently–compatibilism. Accordingly, God knew man would sin, although He did not desire for man to sin then nor does He desire him to sin now.

What He did and does desire for man is that as a free moral agent, man would choose to live righteously rather than sinfully, which is the only real kind of righteousness, i.e. deterministically controlled or merely instinctually driven beings do not choose righteously or sinfully since they have no actual otherwise choice. Therefore, God created man with an eternal redemptive plan in mind that affords fallen man a real free choice between accessible options, whereby man may choose by faith in Christ to be truly righteous, loving, and worshipful or remain in his sin.

The serpent’s temptation of Adam and Eve gives every indication of being one in which man could obey or disobey God, and God desired obedience (Genesis 2:17). It also seems clear that the serpent’s effective temptation was a direct challenge to God’s call for man to live by faith based upon God’s worthiness and the essential dissimilarity between God and man.

God knows everything infinitely, even sin, although He has never sinned, while man only knew about sin by trusting what God said prior to choosing to sin (Genesis 3:5). This dimension could include things like death (Genesis 2:17), temporary pleasures (Hebrews 11:25), and the deceitfulness of sin (Hebrews 3:13), as well as all of the immitigable suffering from sin and death; things God knows exhaustively without needing to experience sin.[6]

Extensivists contend that the desire of God was to create man in His own image; a man who would express true love, righteousness, and compassion as God did to man. God knew that unlike Him, man would not choose to do that but rather he would use his freedom to sin, which God did not desire. God’s redemption plan from eternity past included the determination of God to provide salvation for all through the death of Christ and grace enablements, providing man a real choice between following Christ or remaining in his sin.

Theologians and philosophers recognize that there seem to be things that are truly impossible even for God; these fall into to two categories. The first is that which is logically impossible, and the second is that which is contrary to His nature. W.T. Shedd says, “God can do anything that does not imply a logical impossibility. A logical impossibility means that the predicate is contradictory to the subject.”[7] Regarding those actions that are contrary to God’s nature, Shedd comments, “Again, God cannot do anything inconsistent with the perfection of divine nature. Under this category fall the instances mentioned in Heb. 6:18 (“it is impossible for God to lie”); 2 Tim. 2:13 (“he cannot deny himself”); and James 1:13 (“God cannot be tempted”).”[8]

Others, with whom I would agree, would add to Shedd’s list the impossibility of creating true human freedom with otherwise choice with the guarantee that man will not use it for evil (when that option is available as it was in creation). Another actual impossibility is to force man into heaven against his will because to do so would destroy man as God’s image bearer; therefore, the redeemed would not be the same being created by God who then chose to sin, thereby making God’s redemption only a partial redemption of man.[9]

As a part of his free will defense, Alvin Plantinga argues what he refers to as “transworld depravity.” He summarizes, “What is important about the idea of transworld depravity is that if a person suffers from it, then it wasn’t within God’s power to actualize any world in which that person is significantly free but does no wrong that is, a world in which he produces moral good but no moral evil”[10] “and that it is logically possible that every person suffers from transworld depravity.”[11] Regarding libertarian freedom, Peter Kreeft comments, “One gives a polish to a table, or a pony to a schoolboy, but one does not give three sides to a triangle or free will to a human being. Free will is a part of our essence. There can be no human being without it. The alternative to free will is not being a human but an animal or a machine.”[12]

Accordingly, people are in hell because they are born sinners, practicing sinners, and they rejected an accessible opportunity to choose freely to be delivered from hell to heaven. In the Garden of Eden, God provided an environment in which man could freely choose to walk in relationship with Him or walk away from Him. In like manner, God provides a salvific environment in which man can choose to accept an opportunity to come back to Him or reject Him. Man chose to leave his relationship with God, and man must choose to return; without such choice, what is redeemed from sin is not what was lost in sin. Man as man is destroyed and only an ersatz man is redeemed.

Calvinism’s commitment to compatibilism means that man freely chose to sin, but could not have chosen not to sin, and that man is in heaven or hell because God desired elected him to be and man could not have chosen otherwise. That is to say, according to Calvinism, God’s desire is the ultimate and sole determiner and reason why man sinned and why man is saved. George L. Bryson sums up the essence of Calvinism thusly, “Calvinistically speaking, the lost will not be eternally lost for committing sins or being depraved, any more than the saved will be eternally saved for believing the Gospel or receiving Christ. That is, Calvinism asserts that the elect are eventually, ultimately and inevitably saved unconditionally, just as the unelected are eventually, ultimately and inevitably lost unconditionally.”[13]

In contrast, Extensivism contends that Scripture’s clear and ubiquitous message regarding the nature of God and man (as well as the pervasive descriptive and prescriptive Scriptures depicting the interactions between the two) is that man is endowed with otherwise choice, which misuse of includes the truth that man is the efficient cause of sin with all of its ghastly horror.

Moreover, God provisioned for such eventuality so that the reason people perish in hell is because they reject God’s genuine offer of salvation by faith in Christ, which they could have received by God’s grace enablement. People are in heaven because they, as eternally unworthy beggars, received by faith via God’s grace enablements what they otherwise could not have received. This provision is solely because “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

[1] The use of this term as a positive term for non-Calvinists is limited to just that rather than meaning that everyone who rejects Calvinism must agree with every point I make in this article.
[2] This desire is not merely the desire to create so that man and things would exist in time. Rather, it is in regard to what precisely God’s desire to create included regarding the state and nature of man. According to Calvinism, compatibilism, God did in fact desire to create man with a past that would unalterably emanate a desire from which man would predeterminately freely choose to sin. Thus, the choice of Adam and Eve was something God truly desired because if He did not, He could have, according to compatibilism, created man with a nature from which no desire to sin would arise.

Contrastingly, in Extensivism God’s desire to create man included a desire that man would not misuse his freedom to sin, but provisioned sufficiently for such a reality. God always knew that man would sin, and fallen man would continue to misuse his freedom, but God always desires man to walk in holiness. Knowing man would sin, God out of love provisioned for that eventuality in His coextensive creation/redemption plan for everyone, which further evidences His desire for all of His creation to live holy lives.
[3] “The commentator C. E. B. Cranfield observed, The more seriously a Christian strives to live from grace and to submit to the discipline of the gospel, the more sensitive he becomes to the fact that even his very best acts and activities are disfigured by the egotism which is still powerful within him and no less evil because it is often more subtly disguised than formerly” (A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans [Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1975], 1:358. As cited in John F. MacArthur Jr., Romans, MacArthur New Testament Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1991), 383-384. Electronic Edition Logos Bible Software.
[4] Eternal necessity in the sense that within Calvinism, God knows what man will choose because He knows and governs by deterministically making everything in time to happen precisely as it does–necessarily.
[5] Norman Geisler, Chosen But Free, (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1999), 23.
[6] In heaven, after having experienced sin and redemption, man will be more like God, having learned what God already knew about sin. Then man will use his freedom only for righteousness and never misuse free will again (see my article Can Man Endowed with Libertarian Free Will Live Righteously Forever in Heaven, posted September 23, 2013, which includes issues as a range of options and God’s other protective eternal works as well).
[7] William Greenough Thayer Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, ed. Alan W. Gomes, 3rd ed. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Pub., 2003), 289. Electronic Edition Logos Bible Software.
[8] William Greenough Thayer Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, ed. Alan W. Gomes, 3rd ed. (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R Pub., 2003), 289. Electronic Edition Logos Bible Software.
[9] In Calvinism, although man technically freely believes, everything prior to such an act is predeterminately forced upon man, which is undeniable according to compatibilism, monergism, unconditional election, and irresistible grace; all of which predeterminately precede an unalterable free exercise of faith.
[10] Alvin C. Plantinga, God, Freedom, and Evil (Grand Rapids, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974), 48.
[11] Alvin C. Plantinga, God, Freedom, and Evil (Grand Rapids, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974), 48.
[12] Peter Kreeft and Ronald K. Tacelli, Handbook of Christian Apologetics: Hundreds of Answers to Crucial Questions (Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1994), 3. Electronic Edition Logos Bible Software.
[13] George L. Bryson, The Five Points of Calvinism: Weighed and Found Wanting (Costa Mesa, CA: The Word for Today, 2002), 35.

Ronnie W. Rogers